It Doesn't Pay to Be in a Hurry


News and Site Updates Archive 2008/11/30

Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement.
Economic wounds must be healed by the action of the cells of the economic body - the producers and consumers themselves.

- Herbert Hoover

30 Nov '08 - The era that defined Wall Street is finally, officially over.  Michael Lewis chronicles its excess in his sharply-written 1990 book, Liar’s Poker.  His lengthy but very readable essay revisits those same liars and reveals their part in the ongoing economic disaster...  A-Brave-New-World-Is-Coming: Psychological and biomedical research has traditionally considered risk-taking as an abnormal expression of behaviour, as exemplified by its association with substance abuse and bipolar disorder.  However, scientists at the University of Cambridge found that entrepreneurs represent an example of highly adaptive risk-taking behaviour which can result in positive outcomes during stressful economic circumstances.  This "functional impulsivity", the ability to make quick decisions under stress, may have evolutionary value as a means of seizing opportunities in a rapidly-changing environment.  Drugs can be used to manipulate dopamine levels, which leads to changes in risky decision-making.  Therefore, "one could enhance entrepreneurship pharmacologically"...  A Canadian policeman's dash camera captured the arrival to Earth of a desk-sized meteor from deep space.  The fireball lights up the dark sky like lightning, but it lasts longer.

Invented during the Great Depression by Jay Hormel, the son of the company’s founder, Spam is a combination of ham, pork, sugar, salt, water, potato starch and a "hint" of sodium nitrate "to help Spam keep its gorgeous pink colour."  Because it's vacuum-sealed in a can with no refrigeration required, Spam can last for years.  Hormel says "it’s like meat with a pause button."  Spam may be among the world’s most maligned foods, dismissed as inedible by food elites and skewered by comedians who have offered smart-alecky theories on its name (one G-rated example: Something Posing As Meat).  Spam developed a camp following in the 1970s, mainly because of Monty Python, the English comedy troupe.  In a 1970 skit, a couple tried to order breakfast at a cafe featuring Spam in nearly every entree, like "Spam, Eggs, Sausage and Spam."  The diners were eventually drowned out by a group of Vikings singing, "Spam, lovely Spam, wonderful Spam."  Familiar with the skit, Internet pioneers labeled junk e-mail "spam" because it overwhelmed other dialogue...  The Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers [AMPTP] represents CBS/Viacom, MGM, NBC/Universal, News Corp/Fox, Paramount, Sony, Walt Disney and Warner Brothers, as well as 300 producers who work for the studios and many independent producers in the industry.  The Screen Actors Guild [SAG] represents 120,000 actors.  According to SAG, the studios want the right to create Internet content by using non-union actors to avoid having to pay residuals and believe they can get by with just the biggest stars, making it impossible for most actors to make a living.  The general public doesn't seem too sympathetic.

Psychopathy, the condition of moral emptiness that affects between 15 - 25% of the North American prison population, is believed by some psychologists to exist in 1% of the general adult male population.  (Female psychopaths are thought to be much rarer.)  Psychopaths don’t exhibit the manias, hysterias, and neuroses present in other types of mental illness.  Their main defect, what psychologists call "severe emotional detachment" (a total lack of empathy and remorse) is concealed, and harder to describe than the symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  This absence of easily readable signs has led to debate among mental-health practitioners about what qualifies and how to diagnose it.  Psychopathy isn’t identified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the American Psychiatric Association’s canon); instead, a more general term, "antisocial personality disorder," covers the condition.  Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plough through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets; they're egocentric and lack empathy, guilt or remorse.  Psychopathy raises fundamental issues about justice.  At the core of our judicial system is the assumption that someone who appears sane is culpable for his actions.  (In the US, there is no insanity defense for psychopaths.)  We don’t consider, in most cases, to what extent the offender’s actions were intentional or unintentional - but what neuroscience is showing us is that a great many crimes are committed out of compulsion — the offenders couldn’t help it.  Once that becomes proven, what will the justice system do?  Psychopaths have an underdeveloped paralimbic system - this controls emotions and hence conscience.  [This is a long, but interesting, article.]

What is it?  This unexpected NASA image was taken by the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft January 2003...  Experiments show that people given the opportunity to vent anger afterwards feel more, and not less, animosity.  Aggression requires justification: controlling, not expressing, anger returns blood pressure and equilibrium to normal allowing release of unhealthy ire.  From the same source: "When you enter the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles you watch a video on a variety of prejudices designed to convince you that everyone has at least a few.  Next you're invited to enter the museum proper through one of 2 doors - one marked PREJUDICED, the other UNPREJUDICED.  The latter door is locked in case anyone misses the point.  On our recent visit, we were treated to the sight of 4 Hasidic Jews pounding angrily on the UNPREJUDICED door, demanding to be let in."  And finally: The same DNA that exonerates an innocent person can be used to identify the guilty one, but this rarely happens.  Of all convictions the Innocence Project has succeeded in overturning, there isn't a single time in which police later tried to find the actual perpetrator - instead, the books on the case are closed completely, as if to obliterate any silent accusation of mistakes made.

The perfect phone call should last 9 minutes, 36 seconds: 3 minutes should be spent catching up with news about family and friends, 1 minute on personal problems, 1 minute on work/school, 42 seconds on current affairs, 24 seconds each on the weather and chat about the opposite sex and 12 seconds of quiet contemplation.  20% of people spend the most time on the phone talking to their mothers; 3% spend the most time talking to their fathers...  A leading Russian political analyst has said the economic turmoil in the US has confirmed his long-held view that the country is heading for collapse, and will divide into separate parts.  Professor Igor Panarin said in an interview with Izvestia: "The dollar is not secured by anything.  The country's foreign debt has grown like an avalanche, even though in the early 1980s there was no debt.  By 1998, when I first made my prediction, it had exceeded $2 trillion.  Now it is more than $11 trillion.  This is a pyramid that can only collapse."  He predicted that the US will break up into 6 parts - the Pacific coast, with its growing Chinese population; the South, with its Hispanics; Texas, where independence movements are on the rise; the Atlantic coast, with its distinct and separate mentality; 5 of the poorer central states with their large Native American populations; and the northern states, where the influence from Canada is strong.  He even suggested "We could claim Alaska - it was only granted on lease, after all."

The situation of civilians in Gaza is dire.  Israel has imposed tight sanctions on Gaza because rocket fire into Israeli towns continues.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to lift its blockade, saying that food, medicine and life-saving assistance is being denied to hundreds of thousands of the needy.  Last year, more than 1.1 million people (about 80% of Gaza's population) depended on food aid - as opposed to 63% in 2006.  Unemployment exceeds 40%.  The private sector is especially hard-hit: 70% of private sector workers have lost their jobs.  The blockade is said to breach humanitarian law - dialysis and neo-natal wards rely on consistent supplies of food, electricity and spare parts for life-saving equipment.  Punishing the entire Gazan population for a few Hamas militants puts Israel in the midst of the "2 wrongs make a right" crowd.  Israel has banned foreign journalists from entering Gaza to cover the deteriorating humanitarian situation...  According to Dr Parkinson’s website, patients sign up to receive services by paying a monthly fee (currently $35).  The first visit is free; after that, contact him (via phone, email, IM, or video chat) when you need him and he responds by "getting you exactly what you need."  Office visits can be arranged for $100 - $200 with house visits (in the Brooklyn, New York area) costing $50 extra.  Video chat, IM or phone calls are $50 - $100; long emails are $150 per hour while short emails are free.  Care is not restricted to an 8-hour window and waiting time to communicate with the doctor is reduced.  I'm surprised that more doctors haven't established something like this (unless this arrangement makes insurance claims more difficult) - or maybe they have and I just haven't run across it.

This US Dept of Agriculture microphoto shows that contact between a columnar snow crystal and supercooled droplets in the air results in freezing 50-micron-sized liquid droplets into a rime deposited onto the surface of the crystal.  (So what makes this snow crystal be columnar?) The Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica III, a vertical cemetery in Santos, Brazil, is the world’s tallest cemetery, with burial spaces on 32 floors.  There’s also a restaurant, chapel, lagoon and peacock garden.  It has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Santos.

More than 200 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska, is the Pentagon's High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program [HAARP], officially an enormous experiment to heat the ionosphere with radio waves.  Conspiracy theorists believe the project is a weapon to bring down aircraft and missiles by lifting sections of the atmosphere, to cause earthquakes or even that it's a huge weather modification machine.  Click photos for larger images (at right is an aerial view).  According to Wikipedia, the objectives of the HAARP project became the subject of controversy in the mid-1990s following claims that the antennas could together be used as a weapon.  A small group of American physicists aired complaints in scientific journals charging that HAARP could be seeking ways to destroy or disable enemy spacecraft or disrupt communications over large portions of the planet.  Those physicists had little complaint about the current project but fear it could in the future be expanded into an experimental weapon, especially given that its funding comes from the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Research Laboratory...  On average, a person will use 22 litres of drinkable water every day flushing a toilet; they will flush about 2,500 times a year, and will spend 3 years seated on the "throne"...  When using a public campground, a tuba placed on your picnic table will keep the campsites on either side vacant.

Planets are born out of swirling pancake-like disks of dust and gas surrounding young stars.  They start out as mere grains swimming in a disk of gas before lumping together to form planets, according to the leading theory.  During early stages of planet development, dust grains crystallize and adhere together and the disk itself settles and flattens.  This is thought to occur in the first millions of years of a star's life.  The crystals require temperatures as high as 1,220 Kelvin (about 1,740°Fahrenheit) to form.  But young planet-forming disks are only about 100 to 1,000 Kelvin (-280° F to +1,340° F) - too cold to make the crystals.  Because crystals require heating followed by rapid cooling to form, astronomers theorize that shock waves could be the cause.  Shock waves - supersonic waves of pressure - are thought to be created in planet-forming disks when clouds of gas swirling around at high speeds collide...  Ageing brains contain expansive bundles of neurons (not found in younger brains) that reflect a lifetime of experience.  Also, brain assets become more balanced between hemispheres, doing with the whole brain what the young cannot yet do or can do only with left or right hemisphere singly.  Older people have a "developmental intelligence."  The maturing brain is more capable of "relativistic thinking" (shades of gray), "dualistic thinking" (resolving opposites), and "systematic thinking" (big picture).  It takes a lifetime to develop the basis for these advances and they have enormous individual and social implications (written, no doubt, by a person with a "mature mind" hoping to stay respected).

Who is this mystery man?  Or this mystery woman?...  "Maybe you don't have a free-range bird as you've had in the past; maybe you go to a Butterball."  The person who made that remark was speaking of how people might behave when money is tight.  She clearly meant the obvious: that people will try to save money.  But what was she really saying?  Why, exactly, might a free-range bird be better?  Possibilities include:
          It costs more, so it MUST be better (the purchaser derives satisfaction from being able to buy the best).
          It tastes better (the purchaser gets a better sensory experience).
          It is healthier (the purchaser may live longer).
Another possible reason is the thought that a free-range bird is able to spend its short life acting more true to its nature, hence The bird is happier (the purchaser gets a reduction in his ongoing guilt load)...  The idea that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise.  In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.  In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players or master criminals this number comes up again and again.  Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly 3 hours a day (about 20 hours a week) of practice over 10 years.  No one has yet found a documented case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time.  It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.

The top 20 optical illusions: there were two I hadn't seen before - the graphic above is one.

I view an End User License Agreement [EULA] as a contract - a contract I actually agreed to while installing the software.  And I'm personally not in favour of breaking contracts, at least not when there is no real need for it.  To sum it all up: it is very likely that the legality of EULAs in your country is a no-man's-land.  Without specific laws regarding this issue, without jurisprudence concerning the legality of EULAs, you cannot claim as a fact the legal status of EULAs - you'll have to make a personal decision.  Just don't try to force your personal preference down someone else's throat...  With the click of a mouse, EULAs that accompany software (called click-wrap agreements) can become binding contracts.  That "I Accept" button might take away your right to a jury trial, your right to exclusive use of your own work, or even your right to criticise the product you're downloading.  Is a click-wrap agreement binding and enforceable?  Because they're fairly new, Courts have had relatively few chances to examine them.  Most hold that a properly completed click-wrap agreement IS binding, though sometimes unenforceable.  Courts see 2 potential problems:

Did the customer have reasonable notice of terms? (even if he didn't bother to read them)? and
Did the customer actively agree to those terms? (Courts treat the click box like a signature on a traditional contract and so long as it accompanies a conspicuous warning, a clicked box is enough to show affirmation.)
A company in 2005 demonstrated just how rarely people pay attention to the terms of EULAs by hiding a $1,000 cash giveaway in their license agreement - it took 4 months and 3,000+ downloads before a user discovered the term and claimed the money.  The courts look into the fairness surrounding the process: Is there an imbalance of power between the parties?  Does the stronger party just dictate the terms?  Does the weaker party have an opportunity to get a similar product elsewhere under better terms?  EULAs should be treated like any other contract — read them before signing.  Courts will enforce most EULAs, no matter how absurd users might find them...  Marketscore, which bills itself as an Internet marketing research company, offers a service which, it claims, can speed up web surfing and protect from viruses.  Whether or not it actually speeds up service is debatable, but one thing is for sure.  Read Marketscore's privacy policy and learn: the company "monitors all of your Internet behaviour, including both the normal web browsing you perform, and also the activity you may have through secure sessions, such as when filling a shopping basket or filling out an application form that may contain personal financial and health information."  The company says it has all sorts of procedures in place to "restrict 3rd party use of information we provide."  That's all well and good, but even if the company is sincere and diligent, things change.  If the company decides to revise policy on how it handles personally identifiable information, it "will notify you by posting proposed changes to this Privacy Statement and on our website."  Those changes "will be effective immediately upon such posting."  Don't think it can't happen - even if current owners commit to privacy, there is no guarantee that the company won't be sold.  If it goes bankrupt, it's possible information will be sold to pay creditors.  Are such licenses legal?  Most hold up in court as long as they're reasonably clear.  Courts have said that if you click on something saying "I agree" then it's legal consent.  No Court has ruled on the validity of EULAs generally; decisions are limited merely to particular provisions and terms - take care.

Just outside Atlanta, Georgia beside a major road are approximately 500,000 plastic coffins.  Stacked neatly and in full view, the coffins are allegedly owned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Conspiracy theorists believe that FEMA has also set up several concentration camps in the US in preparation for the imposition of a state of martial law and the killing of millions of Americans.  They suggest that the financial crisis will be used to justify the imposition of a police state.  (My guess is that they were part of the preparation for bird flu)...  The US government is to lend more than $7.4 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers, or half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, to rescue the financial system since the credit markets seized up 15 months ago.  This unprecedented pledge of funds includes $2.8 trillion already tapped by financial institutions in the biggest response to an economic emergency since the New Deal of the 1930s, dwarfing the only plan approved by lawmakers, the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program [TARP].  Federal Reserve lending last week was 1,900 times the weekly average for the 3 years before the crisis.  When Congress approved the TARP on 3 October, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson acknowledged the need for transparency and oversight - but now regulators are committing far more money while refusing to disclose loan recipients or reveal the collateral they are taking in return.  The Federal Reserve, which has already pumped out hundreds of billions of dollars, might formally adopt a policy of flooding the world financial system with even more money.

A pig in the capital city of earthquake-hit Sichuan Province survived for 36 days under quake debris.  It had lost nearly 100 kilograms during the time it was trapped, astonishing vets who believed pigs could survive for only 5 days without food and water.  The pig was bought by a local museum and named Mr Strongwill after its ordeal and the museum curator vowed to keep the pig "until it dies" - a fairly vague promise.  This incident actually happened in June, but I only just read about it which is why I'm including it here.  I tried to discover if the pig was still alive - perhaps its ordeal inflicted damage that ultimately proved fatal - but I could find nothing...  Researchers have found that while MP3 players are safe to use around pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), the headphones that are used with personal stereos can make medical devices malfunction if they are brought into close proximity.  The magnetic substance neodymium, widely used in modern headphones, is to blame.  Headphones were placed on patients' chests directly over where the cardio devices were located and monitored.  A detectable interference with the device by the headphones was found in 23% of patients (15% of pacemaker patients and 30% of defibrillator patients).  For patients with pacemakers, exposure to the headphones can force the device to deliver signals to the heart, causing it to beat without regard to the patients' underlying heart rhythm.  Exposure of a defibrillator to the headphones can temporarily deactivate the defibrillator.  In most cases, removal of the headphones restores normal device function.  Advice?  If you have such a device, keep your headphones on your head.  Family members: avoid wearing headphones and resting your head on top of someone else's device...  "One of our principles is that power corrupts, and you need to disperse it and if our own party allows ourselves to be destroyed by this idea, and are not willing to stand up, then we have to change everyone at the top," said South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.  I agree.  And make sure the new top guys can write intelligible sentences.

How do you get your cables from one side of the bridge to the other when your suspension bridge will be 560 metres above the river?  Previous solutions have included:
bulletAttaching the cable to a kite and flying it over (as was done for the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge)
bulletCarrying one end by helicopter (Akashi Kaikyo Bridge)
bulletFloating one end on a boat (Brooklyn Bridge).
The brains behind the Siduhe Grand Bridge in China (nearing completion after 4 years of construction) decided to ignore all those options and break another record instead.
They attached the 3,200-foot cables to rockets and accurately fired them over the valley, becoming the first people to do so (via Neatorama).

Brain cells of a laboratory mouse glow with multicolour fluorescent proteins at Harvard University.  The Nobel prize in chemistry was awarded to a US-based Japanese and 2 American scientists for research on a glowing a jellyfish protein that revolutionised the ability to study disease and normal development in living organisms.  (Click photo to enlarge)...  The first hallmark of a moral is that the rule it invokes feels universal.  Prohibitions on rape and murder for example are felt not to be matters of local custom but universally warranted.  One can say, "I don’t like brussels sprouts, but I don’t care if you eat them," but few would say, "I don’t like killing, but I don’t care if you murder someone."  The other hallmark is that most people feel that those who commit immoral acts deserve to be punished.  Not only is it allowable to inflict pain on a person who has broken a moral rule; it is wrong not to, to "let him get away with it."  Thus most people are untroubled in inviting divine retribution or the power of the state to harm other people they deem immoral.  Bertrand Russell wrote, "The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists — that is why they invented hell."  However, people don’t generally engage in moral reasoning but moral rationalisation: they begin with the conclusion, coughed up by an unconscious emotion, and then work backward to a plausible justification.  (So is punishment therefore the best way to go or not?  See "The Hidden Suffering of the Psychopath" for some disturbing details of a psychopath's inner life.  It seems clear that punishment won't help).

Today, Taser warns that the device can cause burns.  Moreover, the company acknowledges these burns can become infected.  It warns that people who are shocked by Tasers can suffer bone fractures, hernias, ruptures and dislocations.  Today, Taser suggests students be Tasered while lying facedown on the floor, eliminating falling hazards and stray Taser probes to the eye.  And yet, police use these things indiscriminately.  And nobody seems to think there's anything wrong with the police inflicting horrible pain on people on the thinnest of pretexts.  As long as there's no permanent damage, there's no harm in it.  Heck, even if there is permanent damage, it's the victim's fault for failing to be properly cooperative.  You can see why waterboarding is now considered perfectly acceptable - it doesn't leave any permanent damage either.  No harm no foul (via RobotWisdom)...  The HPV vaccine, sold as Gardasil in the US, is intended to prevent 4 strains of the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world.  The vaccine also prevents cervical cancer.  While the vaccine represents a significant public health advance, it may be premature for states to currently mandate the HPV vaccine as a condition for school attendance.  Outcomes of those voluntarily vaccinated should be followed for several years before mandates are imposed.  The vaccine does not represent a public health necessity of the type that has justified previous vaccine mandates.  And the economic consequences of mandating HPV are significant and could have a negative impact on financial support for other public health programs.

Children in the most popular style of baby buggies face away from the pushing parents.  This makes them significantly less likely to talk or laugh with their parents and they suffer increased stress through having less sleep while being pushed.  Nearly 2/3 of all parents use away-facing buggies, peaking at 86% for children aged between 1 and 2.  Parents using face-to-face buggies are twice as likely to talk to their babies (25% as opposed to 11%).  Mothers and infants in the face-to-face buggies are more likely to laugh together (only one baby laughed in the away-facing buggy, but half did so when face to face).  In addition, babies were twice as likely to fall asleep when facing a parent.  Children's brains are at their most receptive between the ages of 1 and 3 - in short, every occasion that a baby has for interacting with an adult at those ages is a valuable one...  What makes residents of certain states or countries likely to consume more alcohol?  According to a new study high levels of individualism lead to more problem drinking.  People with collectivistic cultural orientations appear more motivated to regulate impulsive consumption tendencies.  The higher a region scores on valuing individualism, the greater the beer and alcohol consumption - true even taking into account effects of income, climate, gender, and religion.  Yet in NZ, a feature of New Zealand university students which may differ from other countries is the low proportion of abstainers from alcohol.  This suggests that being a non-drinker may make a student a relative "outsider," whereas in colleges with higher proportions of non-drinkers there may be more options for a peer group that doesn't drink much.  So collectivistic cultural orientations may sometime increase drinking...  Scientists are finding that specific elements of marijuana can be good for the ageing brain by reducing inflammation there and possibly even stimulating the formation of new brain cells.  The development of a legal drug that contains properties similar to those in marijuana might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  Though the exact cause of Alzheimer’s remains unknown, chronic inflammation in the brain is believed to contribute to memory impairment.

Things changed for Sally Hemings and her brother, James, when they left America and joined Thomas Jefferson in France during his ambassadorship.  "In Paris, Jefferson and the Hemingses were operating outside the slavery system.  They saw people of colour who were free, who were equal members of society.  Sally left Paris when "she was just beginning to learn the French language well."  Although the laws in France did not permit slavery, slaves brought into the country had to petition the government to achieve freedom, a process usually successful but complicated.  Sally and James would almost certainly have been aware of their right to freedom and the means to achieve it; there was a community of former slaves in Paris and freedom cases were brought and won in this period.  Jefferson told another American who enquired about the status of his enslaved domestic servant James: "I find that the laws of France give him freedom if he claims it."  Jefferson continued, evidently referring to his own case, "Nevertheless I have known an instance where a person bringing in a slave, and saying nothing about it, has not been disturbed in his possession."  As Madison Hemings recalled his mother's situation, "in France she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she would be re-enslaved."  In fact, she returned to Virginia and later bore Jefferson 7 children.  Of these, 2 daughters apparently died young; 3 of her children passed for white as young adults and "disappeared".  Many people have wondered why Jefferson never freed Sally - perhaps it was because of an 1806 "removal" law that required freed slaves to leave the state of Virginia within a year...  Using a research submarine, marine biologists in the Bahamas have discovered large numbers of an unknown, grape-sized, single-celled animal slowly rolling across the sea floor.  Single-celled animals, known as protists, are usually the size of a pin-head or much smaller, but the size of this sea-grape isn't the most unusual thing about it.  The tracks left by them as they feed on sediment are up to 50 cm long, and it's estimated that they roll at a rate of 2.5 cm a day.

New UK guidelines on how to treat dogs, cats and horses could lead to 6 months in jail or a fine of up to £20,000 if the animals are not treated properly.  Included in the codes of practice, recently released for consultation, are recommendations that dogs should not be fed at the table in order to avoid developing begging habits and that "curious" cats be kept away from windows and tumble dryers.  Chocolate, raisins or grapes are "poisonous" for pets, while a dog should not be disturbed when eating as this can cause "food-related aggression".  A dog should not taken for a walk in the heat of the day.  Owners should groom dogs with long hair at least once a day and all dogs should have teeth cleaned with dog chews or canine toothpaste as part of routine care.  The guidelines cover the animal's environment, diet and the company they enjoy, ensuring they exhibit normal behaviour patterns, as well as health and welfare issues.  While breaking the code won't directly lead to jail, it will factor into whether an individual is found guilty in court of a pet welfare offence...  A list of the most irritating English language expressions has been compiled by researchers at Oxford University.  They are: At the end of the day; Fairly unique; I personally; At this moment in time; With all due respect; Absolutely; It's a nightmare; Shouldn't of; 24/7; and It's not rocket science.  They rated as less annoying Educator (instead of teacher); Paradigm; Winningest; Alternate (instead of alternative); Don't get me wrong; Give me a heads-up; Irregardless; I thought to myself; No problem; Gutted; Gobsmacked; I tell you what...; Free gift; My bad; In my humble opinion; Hindsight is 20/20; Touch base; A whole 'nother ballgame; and 8am in the morning.  This list is unbe-LIEVE-able, y'know, but, y'know, having said that, hey, give myself a break and let me introduce a better term, which I find very useful: "Someotherwhere."  But, then, I've always ridden to the sound of a different cannon...  Toby the beagle and Sheila the duck.  It's short - watch it all they way to the end to get that WTF feeling (via Neatorama).

An envelope with money visible through the address window sticks out of a mailbox.  Under ordinary conditions 13% of passers-by steal the envelope.  When the same mailbox is defaced with graffiti that number jumps to 27%.  After researchers clean the mailbox, but mess up the area around it with litter, 25% steal...  One voting pattern in the 2008 election was essentially determined 85 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period.  The "blue" Democrat county votes correlate to the same areas where cotton was grown in the slavery era.  Black Belt is a name that refers both to the area's racial demographics and to those rich, dark loamy soils ideal for cotton crops.  The entire region is underlain by Selma Chalk from Upper Cretaceous marine deposits.  I was born in Dallas where black loamy soil and chalk veins are found.  I see from a map showing county-level election results in the South that Dallas voted blue.  But no other counties did between Dallas County and the blue counties along the Mississippi.  Yet I know cotton grows on much of that land.  Perhaps slavery ended before land that far west was settled? - except for strategically-located Dallas, already established (originally from Allen Gathman).  The Intelligence Project / Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate crimes.  The Director (who is white) says he believes "a large subset of white people in this country feel that they are losing everything they know, that the country their forefathers built has somehow been stolen from them."  Change does not come easy and William Ferris, senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, says that a black president is "the most profound change in the field of race this country has experienced since the Civil War.  It's shaking the foundations on which the country has existed for centuries."  Are those foundations made of Selma Chalk?

On 24 June 1947 the modern UFO era began when Kenneth Arnold, flying his plane near Mount Rainier in the US state of Washington, saw 9 "flying saucers" moving at high speed.  Soon others began reporting seeing similar objects.  But the phrase "flying saucer" is the result of a reporter’s error.  After interviewing Arnold about his sighting, the reporter wrote that Arnold saw round, aerial objects (in fact he said they were "crescent shaped").  Arnold said the objects "flew erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across the water" — not that what he saw resembled a saucer.  Yet that "saucer" interpretation stuck, prompting many eyewitnesses to repeat (and hoaxers to duplicate) Arnold’s nonexistent description.  This strongly shows the role of suggestion in UFO sightings; as skeptics ask: "Why would extraterrestrials redesign their craft to conform to [a reporter’s] mistake?"...  Two clones of highly antibiotic-resistant organism strains, previously found only in the US, are now causing serious illness and death in several Colombian cities including the capital Bogotá.  Clones of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis (VREF) have emerged.  The variation of the MRSA clone, referred to as USA 300, has been previously reported to be the most important cause of severe skin and soft tissue infections in the US.  In Colombia before 2005, there were no recorded cases of any community-associated MRSA infections.  Since then, 51 cases have been identified at 7 hospitals.  USA 300 has now been recorded in multiple patients in Ecuador and Venezuela.

This is a 1-minute clip of 4-month-old twin boys laughing at each other.  They were cute, but that isn't what I found so interesting.  It's the feeling of looking at something private that maybe I shouldn't even be there seeing that I noticed most.  Presumably the film is shot by a parent buzzing around - the twins virtually ignore whoever it is.  I really got a glimpse of what being a twin might be like - a constant validation.  When twins get mad at each other, that experience must be more intense as well...  Every day 85 Americans die by suicide.  People who die while visiting Las Vegas are twice as likely to die by suicide than are people who die visiting someplace else.  Visitors to Las Vegas face a higher suicide risk than the residents who live there.  If you live in Las Vegas, but travel away from home, your risk for suicide decreases.  Why?  "Gambler's despair" occurs when someone visits Las Vegas, bets his house away and decides to end it all.  Another reason might be that those predisposed to suicide disproportionately choose Las Vegas as a place to live or visit.  There may be a "contagion" effect where people emulate the suicides of others - Las Vegas may act as a suicide magnet much like the Golden Gate bridge.  Finally, it is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the US, a pattern of growth that may amplify social isolation, fragmentation and low social cohesion, all of which have long been identified as correlates of suicide.

Dear Earthlings

I pledge allegiance
to my Planet
and to the
all around
and within me
one Spirit
with Eternity
for All

- Planetwork Brute Force (Stephen Friedland)

Police in one Cape Cod, Massachusetts, town have a musical mystery on their hands: Who left a piano in the middle of the woods?  And why?...  Ten of the world's most popular pesticides can decimate amphibian populations when mixed together even if individual chemicals are within limits considered safe.  A mixture of all 10 chemicals kills 99% of leopard frog tadpoles as does the insecticide-only mixture; the herbicide mixture has no effect on tadpoles.  While leopard frogs perish, gray tree frogs don't - instead flourishing in the absence of leopard frog competitors.  One of the pesticides, endosulfan (a neurotoxin banned in several nations but still used extensively in US agriculture), is inordinately deadly to leopard frog tadpoles.  By itself, it causes 84% of leopard frog deaths.  This lethality was previously unknown because current regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not require amphibian testing even though amphibians are considered an environmental indicator species because of their unique sensitivity to pollutants.  Their demise from pesticide overexposure could foreshadow the fate of less sensitive animals...  The bacterial community in the human bowel is 10 times more diverse than previously thought.  In sheer numbers, the mammalian colon harbours one of the densest microbial communities found on Earth.  For every human cell in a human body, there are roughly 10 single-celled microbes, most of which live in the digestive tract - at least 5,600 separate species or strains.  These bacteria fine-tune the immune systems and produce nutrients such as vitamin K...  A team of Princeton University scientists has discovered that chains of proteins found in most living organisms act like adaptive machines, possessing the ability to control their own evolution: the proteins themselves act to correct any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations and restore the chain to working order.  The discovery answers an age-old question that has puzzled biologists since the time of Darwin: How can organisms be so exquisitely complex, if evolution is completely random, operating like a "blind watchmaker"?  Researchers conclude that this self-correcting behaviour can only be possible if, during the early stages of evolution, the proteins developed a self-regulating mechanism analogous to a car's cruise control or a home's thermostat that allows them to fine-tune and control their subsequent evolution.  Scientists are working on formulating a new general theory based on this finding.

Every year the ocean provides a useful service by absorbing 1/3 of the 30 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.  However, researchers have shown that this dissolved CO2 creates a weak solution of carbonic acid, which is fundamentally changing the chemistry of the marine environment, with significant consequences for many marine plants and animals.  Most affected are animals that use calcium carbonate to build their skeletons.  As the ocean becomes mildly more acidic (only a very slightly lower pH, still less acidic than the human body), these animals will find it more difficult to grow.  Eventually, at the predicted "tipping point" (currently the year 2030), research suggests that they may start to find their skeletons and shells dissolve away.  These organisms are an important component of the food chain...  Is virginity an "essential quality" in a bride?  Not according to France's justice system.  Under France's civil code, a marriage can be annulled if one spouse or another has lied about an "essential quality" of the relationship.  Virginity, it turns out, doesn't qualify.  Many freely contracting spouses-to-be - whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish or otherwise - undeniably do see virginity as a sine qua non of a viable marriage partner.  Assuming both parties in a betrothal agree to such terms, should their contract be torn up simply because the underlying Victorian view of sexuality has fallen out of favour?...  A 1st-year law student who was willing to give his wallet and valuable guitar collection to a robber who broke into his Arizona apartment with a baseball bat drew the line when the man tried to steal his laptop packed with case notes and study material.  He awoke to find the intruder in his room and, when the man tried to take his computer, he sprang into action.  "I was like, 'Dude, no - please, no!" Alex Botsios said later.  "I have all my case notes - that's 4 months of work!"  Botsios jumped on top of the intruder and began punching.  The suspect was taken to the hospital for stitches before he was placed under arrest.

The (Simplified) Eisenhower Interstate System - click image for larger view (via RobotWisdom)...  Jarek Molski, 38, has used a wheelchair since a motorcycle accident two decades ago.  In the past 2 years, Molski has filed more than 400 lawsuits under the Americans With Disabilities Act - suing restaurants, bowling alleys, wineries and other retail outlets for insufficient handicapped parking, misplaced handrails and other violations, demanding that business owners be fined $4,000 for every day their facilities fail to meet exacting federal standards.  Fear of adverse judgments compel many to settle out of court, earning the Polish-born plaintiff hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Is Molski a crusader for the disabled or an extortionist who abuses the law for personal gain?...  More cemeteries means more hazardous chemicals and metals, which may be contaminating surrounding neighbourhoods.  Possible contaminants include poisons such as arsenic and mercury (used in past embalming and burial practices); formaldehyde from current embalming practices; varnishes, sealers, and preservatives used on wood coffins; and lead, zinc, copper, and steel from metal coffins.  Metals adsorbed in a fine-grained soil from a large cemetery in Northwest Ohio reveal numerous possible sources of contamination, including zinc, copper, lead, and iron.  Dramatic increases in arsenic indicate contamination from embalming fluids or wood preservatives.  This generates concern for the quality of soil, groundwater and nearby surface water systems around large cemeteries...  Sleep bulimia - super-late nights followed by sleep-in weekends.  Avoid this.  Nap instead.

People’s bottoms are getting so big that injections into them are becoming ineffective, a study in Ireland has shown.  Many are now so obese that commonly used needles are simply not long enough to penetrate the fat and reach the muscle, where they are aimed.  68% of intramuscular injections in the buttocks do not reach the muscle because the amount of fat tissue overlying the muscles exceeds the length of the needles commonly used.  Overall, the success rate of the injections was only 32%.  More than half (56%) of injections in men reached the muscle, but in women it was a mere 8%.  (So why, exactly, don't they just make the needles longer?)...  "No one can imagine what it's really like," says Jill Price, 42, "not even scientists who study me."  The Californian has an almost perfect memory - she can rattle off, without hesitation, what she saw and heard on almost any given date.  "People say to me: 'Oh, how fascinating, it must be a treat to have a perfect memory'," she says.  Her lips twist into a thin smile.  "It's also agonising."  In addition to good memories, every angry word, every mistake, every disappointment, every shock and every moment of pain goes unforgotten.  Time heals no wounds for Price.  "I don't look back at the past with any distance.  It's more like experiencing everything over and over again, and those memories trigger exactly the same emotions in me.  It's like an endless, chaotic film that can completely overpower me.  And there's no stop button."  Since the discovery of Jill's ability, 3 others with this power have surfaced.  They all seem to be left-handed compulsive hoarders who take notes...  "When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, 'No, I went to films.'" - Quentin Tarantino...  Mr Harvey [co-founder of Harvey Norman], who is worth A$1.8 billion in money terms, was asked about the good works he and his business do in the community.  He replied that giving money to people who "are not putting anything back into the community" is like "helping a whole heap of no-hopers to survive for no good reason".  He still fears going broke, despite his vast fortune.  You can see why - that would mean he, too, would possibly be a loser in life's lottery and he'd expect himself to walk the plank.

By the time you reach 60, these things will (approximately) have happened:
Number of heartbeats: 2.2 billion
Number of hairs moulted: 1.5 million
Number of days asleep: 6,570
Length of each nail if never cut: 2.16 metres

Bruce Lee playing ping pong with nunchuks

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